Glottal stops in real English

by | Oct 1, 2021 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

When I was growing up, I remember being “corrected” and told that the way I spoke was “wrong”. The reason? I used glottal stops.

The glottal stop is a common sound in British English and often replaces /t/ between vowels like “water” or at the end of words after a vowel in words like “lot”. In some accents, notably Geordie which is spoken in Newcastle area, the glottal stop replaces all voiceless plosives, so for example “picking” would become /pɪʔɪn/ rather than /pɪkɪŋ/ (notice the different pronunciation of “ing” too).

If you’re interested in hearing an example of the Geordie accent, I’ve got a blog post about that

However, it’s also a sound that is viewed by those in more powerful social groups as something “bad”. It’s “wrong” and it should be discouraged. Many parents and teachers for example will “correct” their children/students who use this sound.

You’ll notice a lot of speech marks around some of these words that describe the sound. This is because, as someone whose academic background is linguistics and phonetics, I understand very well the impact of social power on the prestige of an accent. Put simply, the glottal stop is not a feature of RP, the variant spoken by the British upper classes. Because of this, it’s viewed by those in power as something inferior.

To be super clear about what I mean by those in power, I’m not just talking about the upper echelons of society like the Royal Family etc, I’m also talking about those who work in the media, those who work in government and other professional groups. All view the glottal stop as something “wrong” even though many of them use the sound themselves.

So why haven’t I made a video about this sound before now? Especially given that I use this sound A LOT in my own speech?

Although I find language fascinating and adore the secret clues we get about someone’s background and experiences through their accent, I am also very pragmatic.

Because the glottal stop is something stigmatised, it hasn’t been something I’ve wanted to actively teach. I don’t want to encourage my students to use something that the powerful classes look down on.

However, lots and lots of you over on Instagram have asked for this video, so who am I to deny you!


Picture credit: By Szczecinolog – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15973738

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